Boost Your Next Walk With Sound and Rhythm

Walking is one of the most underrated forms of exercise. And calorie burning represents just a mere fraction of walking’s health benefits.

In fact, I credit walking with helping me recover from several major surgeries last year.

Those first post-ICU steps were painfully slow. A walk that would normally last seconds took several minutes and required breaks.

But even though those few steps exhausted me, they also gave me hope at a time when I needed it most. And as I started to see progress, it “clicked”: Walking was my ticket to getting my life back.

Just a few months later, I was able to sing full shows again with my band The Sun King Warriors.

But to get there, I had to be consistent with my walking. To keep myself motivated, I began researching potential “add-ons” to my walk that could help keep me moving…

Four “add-ons” that help magnify the healing power of walking

Unsurprisingly, music was my first walking add-on.

Specifically, my favorite positive, funky music from artists like James Brown, Sly and the Family Stone and of course lots of Bob Marely. 

Listening to the music I’ve loved for years diverted my attention away from the physical exertion and kept me energized during my walks.

And a 2016 study shows music can help with more than just motivation. The researchers found that walking with music can have a positive effect on:

  • Ease of movement
  • Balance and posture
  • Motor coordination
  • Joint strength
  • Muscle tone
  • Endurance

The second thing I added on to my walks was humming. As I walked, I hummed along to my playlist. Humming stimulates the vagus nerve—the longest cranial nerve in the body that connects with all major organs. And stimulating the vagus nerve helps activate the body’s built-in healing powers.

My third “add on” was controlled breathing. I matched the rhythm of my breathing with my steps—breathing in slowly through my nose for 5 steps, and then exhaling slowly for 5 steps.

A 2018 study published in the European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing found that combining controlled breathing with walking for just six minutes a day significantly improved the subjects’ exercise tolerance, anxiety levels, and quality of life.

The final thing I added to my recovery routine was to spend some time each week walking barefoot in my backyard.

And yes, I realize how odd this might sound. But research shows that direct, physical contact with the ground helps the body absorb electrons from the soil.

This natural, electrical charge from the Earth has been shown to offer key health benefits to the human body, including:

  • Reducing inflammation
  • Lowering chronic pain
  • Improving cardiovascular function
  • Lessening post-exercise soreness

Remember, healing takes time.

The past 18 months have taught me to focus on the moment-to-moment victories—no matter how small—like just getting my shoes on and walking out the door.

Be patient with yourself and never ever give up.

Be Well,

Jim Donovan

Jim Donovan M.Ed.

Hsiu-Chin T., Mei-Ling Y., and Mei-Hua W. (2018). Walking with controlled breathing improve
exercise tolerance, anxiety, and quality of life in heart failure patients: A randomized controlled trial. European Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing. Retrieved from:
Beneficial Effect of Preferential Music on Exercise Induced Changes in Heart Rate Variability
Chevalier, et al. (2013). Earthing (Grounding) the Human Body Reduces Blood Viscosity-A
Major Factor in Cardiovascular Disease. Journal of Alternative and Complementary
Medicine. Retrieved from:
Menigoz, W. et al. (2020). Integrative and lifestyle medicine strategies should include Earthing
(grounding): Review of research evidence and clinical observations. Explore. 16(3): pp. 152
– 160. From:
Front Psychol. 2020 The Psychophysiological Effects of Different Tempo Music on Endurance Versus High-Intensity Performances

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About the author:

Jim Donovan M.Ed. is a multi-platinum musician, educator and TEDx speaker.

His mission is to share the restorative power of music through education and performance.

Donovan is an Assistant Professor and Director of Music and Wellness at Saint Francis University.

His viral TEDx Talk "How to Trick Your Brain Into Falling Asleep" has been viewed over 6 million times to date.

He currently performs with his band The Sun King Warriors who can best described as as a blend of rhythm heavy roots rock, with a strong dose of big barreling drums. 

Jim Donovan got his start as a founding member of the multi-platinum selling band Rusted Root. 

There he co-wrote the song “Send Me on My Way” featured in the movies "Ice Age", "Matilda" and the Netflix series "New Girl".

During his time with the band 1990-2005, he recorded and released seven full length albums. Including "When I Woke" (3x platinum).

He also had the honor of sharing the stage with many of his musical influences and heroes including Robert Plant and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin (1995 US/UK tour), Carlos Santana (1997/2002 US tour), The Allman Brothers Band (1995/96 US tour), The Grateful Dead (1995 Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, PA) and many others.

Send Me On My Way also became the first song on Mars where it “woke up” NASA’s Mars Rover.


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